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Sexual Abuse and Addiction

Sexual abuse, whether direct physical assault or pattern of ongoing behavioral harassment, can precipitate a variety of ongoing mental health and quality-of-life issues from which it can be tremendously difficult to recover. One of these issues is the onset of substance use disorder (SUD). Drug and alcohol use can often become a coping mechanism for victims of all types of sexual assault, including those who suffer sudden and violent rape or attempted sexual assault; those who are sexually molested as children; and those who are consistently sexually objectified in various areas of their lives. Understanding the scope of sexual violence and its relationship to corresponding SUD can better influence treatment protocols and lead to more intuitive care.

Scope of Sexual Abuse in the United States

Although incidents of rape have declined by nearly 45 percent over the past 25 years, according to data from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), thousands of Americans continue to combat sexual violence and manipulation every day. The United States Justice Department reports that every ninety-eight seconds, another American is the victim of sexual assault.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that nearly one in five women and one in seventy-one men reported experiencing rape at some time in their lives and that roughly one in twenty women and men experienced sexual violence other than rape, such as being made to penetrate someone else, sexual coercion, unwanted sexual-contact or -noncontact experiences.

According to statistics from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), more than 320,000 Americans aged twelve and under are sexually assaulted each year, and around 60,000 children are the victims of substantiated or indicated sexual abuse.

Impact on Mental Health and the Development of Substance Abuse

Substance use can start to manifest very soon after incidents of sexual abuse or years after. Research from Columbia University indicates that as many as 80 percent of women who are seeking treatment for SUDs report a lifetime history of sexual assault, physical assault, or both. Multiple studies indicate that children who are sexually abused have a higher risk of coping with drug or alcohol abuse. Another study in the Journal of Traumatic Stress indicated that 90 percent of women who became dependent on alcohol were violently abused by a parent or were sexually traumatized as a child. Research published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) indicates a clear and consistent correlation between sexual assault and drug and alcohol use disorder, borne out through a variety of data.

Presence of Drugs and Alcohol in Sexual Assaults

Alcohol and drugs are present in a large number of sexual assaults. Data from the NIDA indicates that alcohol is present in more than half of all sexual assaults on college campuses. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and can also make drinkers more aggressive. Drug-facilitated sexual assault (DFSA) continues to be a serious problem in America and across the globe. Survivors of DFSA often don’t recall their attacks due to the nature of the crime; however, many end up developing severe long-term depression, anxiety, PTSD, and substance use.

Treating SUD in Sexual Assault Survivors

Treating addiction in sexual abuse survivors is a delicate and complex process. While medically supervised detox and withdrawal management is a universal element of addiction treatment, behavioral rehab can vary from case to case depending on the survivor’s mental health issues and care needs. Each patient should undergo a comprehensive course of behavioral rehab that simultaneously addresses the psychological fallout from their addiction as while as the mental health issues that have occurred from the related sexual abuse. The US National Comorbidity Survey Report estimates the lifetime prevalence of PTSD among North Americans who have been sexually assaulted is around 50 percent. This suggests that trauma-informed psychotherapy should be an integral part of treatment protocol for this vulnerable population.

Start the Healing Process

If you or someone you care about has developed SUD as a result of one-time or ongoing sexual assault, take back the power and start reclaiming your life by seeking treatment today. You don’t have to go through this alone, nor should you. Seeking treatment means empowering yourself and taking control. More effective and intuitive treatment than ever is out there to help you.

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